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The Royal Hunting Grounds of Mondragone-Falciano
The more we move into the 1800s and towards the end of Bourbon rule—that is, the end of the kingdom of Naples in 1860—the less we find extravagant building projects. Ferdinand II ascended the throne of Naples in 1830 and was concerned with expanding the kingdom’s industrial, military and commercial infrastructure. Thus we find him building the first railway line in Italy, expanding the shipyards at Castellammare, dealing with great political turmoil and pondering the involvement of his kingdom in the great wars of Italian unification that were about to break out. Thus, when we read of the Royal Hunting Grounds of Mondragone-Falciano it may sound like the venue for chubby, bewigged royals to go bouncing on horseback through the woods in frivolous chase of some poor creature or other, but these Hunting Grounds were actually a large project to reclaim swamp land, a project begun under in 1839 and never really finished until well into the next century.
Mondragone is a beach community about 40 km (25 miles) north-west of Naples as you move up along the coast. It's about halfway to Gaeta at the foot of a spur of the Apennine mountain range known as Monte Massico, the mountain that marks the end of the Campanian plain in that direction If you then move inland from Mondragone along the base of that mountain, you will find a town called Falciano del Massico on the hillside overlooking the Campanian plain to the south. It is close to the Lake Falciano Nature Reserve, a park of about 90 hectares (220 acres), officially protected since 1993 and centered around the lake, itself, a small body of water 1.4 km in circumference. It is of volcanic origin and is primarily replenished ‘phreatically,’ that is, from sources welling up through the water table. Thanks to reclamation it now has a rich ecosystem and is an attraction for casual tourists as well as serious students of flora and fauna. The park and lake are, in fact, the old hunting grounds.
The original Bourbon reclamation project was concerned with handling the swamping up caused by underground water flooding the surface and was centered on the area around the lake and extending back into the Campanian plain. This site is chronologically the last one in a long series of royal sites ranging from grand palaces built in the mid-1700s to smaller and later sites termed caccie (hunting reserves). (Full list, right.) There do not seem to be any ruins—certainly not restored ones—of what might have passed for anything as "frivolous" as a royal hunting lodge in the area.
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